OFFICIAL IATA CODE
JQ516 to Sydney, economy class
Frequent visitors to Melbourne Airport have long bemoaned the lack of a rail link to the city, a problem that doesn't look like it's going away any time soon: the first train connecting Southern Cross to Tullamarine is expected to depart at about 2030 – the year, not the time. Until then, passengers are stuck with either taxis, Ubers, or catching the SkyBus. The latter is the option I take, shelling out $19.75 for the half-hour ride. The experience is painless enough, and it's not long before I'm dropped off outside Terminal 3, which is relatively close to my final destination, the budget carrier terminal T4.
T4 is Melbourne's newest terminal, a sparkling $400 million facility that opened back in 2015. It's modern, it's spacious, and it's infuriating. The problem is the design: rather than the standard airport layout of various concourses with gates and shops and restaurants, T4 has one central area housing all of the shops and restaurants, and concourses that only have gates, and no other facilities. Passengers are corralled in this central area right up until boarding – because gates aren't announced until the last minute – which obviously suits the airport, as passengers have more opportunity to browse and spend money, but which results in a seriously crowded area with little or no seating. Clearly, this place has been designed without the passenger in mind.
I've checked in for my flight to Sydney online and I don't have any baggage, so I sail straight past the check-in counters and head for security.
Though there's a short queue at the X-ray machines, it moves quickly, and staff are polite and efficient.
FOOD AND DRINK
As mentioned earlier, pretty much all of the airside facilities in T4 are crammed into one central atrium. Here you'll find a reasonable selection of food ranging from burgers to kebabs, salads to donuts, Mexican to Japanese. There are also a few cafes peddling reliable if overpriced coffee, and a bar that does a similar line in local beer and other beverages. Of course, if you can find a seat upon which to consume any of this you'll have done well.
You don't expect a lot from a budget terminal – this is, after all, a place to dash in and board your flight, rather than one in which to hang around for hours on end – but T4 does have a reasonable amount of shopping options. Most, again, are in that dreaded central atrium, or land-side before the check-in desks. You'll find classic Aussie brands here like Country Road, Rip Curl and Witchery: shops that won't exactly break the bank. T4 also has a pharmacy, several newsagents, and a couple of travel accessories stores.
You won't want to hang around for any long period in T4. Fortunately, the terminal is within easy walking distance of Melbourne's other three terminals, meaning you can access facilities such as a printing and faxing service, public showers, and a children's play area in T2, and massage chairs in T3, plus Melbourne has three on-site airport hotels (the Park Royal, the Holiday Inn and the Ibis). There's also free Wi-Fi throughout.
ONE MORE THING
I still haven't even mentioned the worst thing about Melbourne's T4. It's not the fact you get corralled with a million other people in the central atrium – it's the fact that, once your departure gate is finally announced, you discover it's so far away. Seriously, you're looking at more than a kilometre of striding it out, with no help from a travelator, to get from the restaurants to the Jetstar gates at T4. It's almost worth packing rollerblades.
Melbourne's T4 isn't the worst airport terminal in the world, but it's far from the best. The lack of a rail link to the city is an eternal black mark against its name. The mind-boggling system to forcing passengers to remain in a tiny, shop-filled waiting area instead of going to their gates is another one. And then there's the travelator-free schlepp to actually get to your plane. At least the place is all new and clean.
See also: Airport review: A world leader in dining